The Atlas of the Later Zulu Wars 1883-1888

The Atlas of the Later Zulu Wars 1883-1888

  • Author: John Laband
  • Publisher: University of Natal Press
  • ISBN: 0-86980-998-9

Review By : Ian Knight

   There is a tendency, even in most recent histories of the Anglo-Zulu War, to write off the effects of the post-war political settlement of Zululand, imposed in the aftermath of the British victory at Ulundi. It is easy to understand why; as a tragic drama, the partitioning  of Zululand and the collapse of the country into civil war and anarchy makes a particularly poignant epilogue, a suitably sour and thought-provoking note, when summed up succinctly, with which to end the epic tale, an antidote to offset the gung-ho flourishes of conquest and resistance. Yet in fact, the British invasion of 1879 was merely the main act in the drama; the true story of the destruction of the Zulu kingdom took place across the following decade.

 Sir Garnet Wolseley’s hasty post-war partitioning  of the country – so often criticised as a failure, because of the violence it unleashed – was in fact largely the opposite, at least in terms of his political brief. Designed to prevent the re-emergence of the Zulu Royal House, and to liberate those groups within the kingdom who had supposedly been held in check by the Zulu kings since the time of Shaka, it in fact stoked deep-seated tensions within the country. It created a new order of self-serving amakosi like Zibhebhu kaMapitha – himself a distinguished hero of the war of 1879 – who looked to European support and economic involvement to sustain their power-base, while at the same time it alienated a large proportion of ordinary Zulus who were essentially conservative, who remained loyal to the exiled King Cetshwayo, and who hankered nostalgically for the golden age of prestige and power his rule had represented. In their shamelessly partisan approach, supporting the new order in he hope of undermining support for the old, Wolseley’s white successors in fact created the very backlash amongst frustrated loyalists that they most feared.

 Within two or three years of the last British troops marching out of Zululand, the situation within the country was anarchic, leading to a bizarre reversal of official policy, and the re-instatement of Cetshwayo to part of his old territories. Yet the restored king was in an in impossible position, for the animosities that had festered during his absence could not be contained, and civil war erupted. In many respects, it was Zibhebhu’s victory over the assembled royalists at oNdini in July 1883 – the second battle of Ulundi – which was the true conclusion of the British invasion, for it led to the deaths of over fifty of the great nobles of the old Zulu order, and to the utter ruin of Cetshwayo.

Even then, however, the sorry story does not end, for the mantle of royalist hopes descended upon Cetshwayo’s son, Dinuzulu. For anyone accustomed to the image of Dinuzulu at the time of the 1906 Rebellion – not yet forty, overweight, sick, an alcoholic, weighed down, indecisive, and trapped by his powerlessness between the responsibilities to his people and the suspicion of the colonial authorities – it comes as something of a surprise to discover what a dynamic figure he was in the 1880s. Still a teenager, he galvanised royalist supporters and secured white intervention – mortgaging part of his birthright to the Boers in consequence – and defeated Zibhebhu at the battle of Tshaneni in 1884.

 When the prospect of Boer influence in Zululand finally provoked a response from the British, Dinuzulu went into open revolt. Driving off a small British force sent to arrest him at Ceza mountain, he attacked Zibhebhu – again – and, after a spectacular charge at Ivuna Hill, led by Dinuzulu on horseback in person, he routed him. He then defied British redcoats once more from his mountain strongholds. Yet the outcome of the ‘uSuthu Rebellion’ was surely never in doubt, for if a united Zululand could not defeat British troops in Zululand, a country fragmented by a decade of civil war never stood a chance, and Dinuzulu’s ultimate surrender in 1888 marks both the true point of British victory, and the end of this book.

            Two scholars have made the systematic destruction of Zulu independence post-1879 their speciality, Professor Jeff Guy – whose ‘Destruction of the Zulu Kingdom’ is a seminal work – and Professor John Laband. Laband, of course, is the author of the monumental ‘Rope of Sand’, and of the ‘Illustrated Guide to the Anglo-Zulu War’. This book is very much a companion piece to the latter, and follows the same format. It offers a concise and fully illustrated history of these complex events as they unfolded, breaking down the campaigns chronologically, and describing each of the important battles in turn. And the maps, are, of course, a crucial element; while the often fluid and confusing strategic situation sometimes gives rise to some rather overly complicated campaign maps, the battle maps are a delight, meticulously researched and carefully realised.

            This is an important book in that it explores the wider consequences of the British invasion, a reminder that the events of 1879 do not stand alone in some mythical landscape, but shaped the bitter destiny of the Zulu people to this day, and it is particularly recommended for anyone who is curious to understand the rather brutal road by which Zululand got from the ever-popular ‘then’ of 1879 to ‘now’. 


Tuesday 17th of January 2006 09:39:41 PM